Diminishing "Dreams" and Early Halloween Tricks
by Andy Dursin
October is here already, which means Halloween is not far away. Next
thing you know some kid will be wearing a Scream mask asking for Mounds
or Almond Joy on the front porch.
While you'll be able to check out a handful of Halloween goodies on
laserdisc and DVD in the upcoming October FSM "Laserphile," I've
thrown in a look at the new HALLOWEEN II and III DVDs below some quick
reviews of the new Robin Williams fantasy WHAT DREAMS MAY COME and the
teen-horror entry URBAN LEGEND. Next time we'll be back with more soundtrack
reviews and some TV listings that we hope will be worth your while.
New in Theaters
WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (**): Vincent Ward's latest film is certainly a
triumph of visual effects and production design, and yet, like his previous
films, what it offers in sheer visceral imagination it lacks in emotion
Robin Williams plays a doctor for whom tragedy is no stranger--his young
children were both killed in a car accident referred to over the movie's
opening credits), and when he tries to assist in another auto collision,
he loses his own life as well. Eventually, Williams awakens in a Heaven
where your thoughts and dreams provide the after-life surroundings; for
the doctor who has left his long-suffering wife (Annabella Sciorra) behind,
his world is marked by her paintings, which results in gorgeous visual
effects of paint dripping off trees and irregularly colored skies filling
the screen. While adapting to life after death, Williams is tutored by
an angelic type (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) while Sciorra has trouble coping with
living without her family, and her eventual course of action forms the
quest element that comprises the rest of the story.
Based on a novel by Richard Matheson, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME is sort of
like what would have happened to GHOST if its sentiments and preachiness
became too maudlin. Ronald Bass's script has little humor, which not surprising
given the melancholy tone of this fantasy, and yet there's not enough romance
or passion either, something that Matheson's own SOMEWHERE IN TIME (which
was adapted from his novel "Bid Time Return") had in spades.
The second-half narrative "quest" becomes so reliant on the relationship
of Williams and Sciorra that the movie's ultimate failing is clearly its
inability to create a couple whom the audience cares about; their montage
sequences feel like something out of GHOST (with the spectral Williams
leaning over his mournful wife), but brief montage clips do not substitute
for scenes that delineate fully developed characters. Furthermore, the
dialogue is often painfully preachy and obvious, with Gooding's statements
about living life and letting go of reality feeling like they were ripped
off a Hallmark card. The ultimate "disguise" of several afterlife
characters ultimately comes off as a contrived element in the script as
well, being reprised no less than three times over the course of the film.
Meanwhile, Williams's performance, with his "serious" and earnest
demeanor, will make most folks recall his uncertain dramatic work in HOOK
and the gooiest moments of DEAD POETS SOCIETY, while Gooding's act feels
more suited to a "Very Special Episode" of TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL
than the dense fantasy of this film.
Vincent Ward, whose previous credits include THE NAVIGATOR and MAP OF
THE HUMAN HEART, nevertheless brings his penchant for audacious visuals
to the film. Looking like a cross between the classic '40s British fantasy
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN and Terry Gilliam's THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN,
the scenes of Williams venturing into this netherworld are startling and
glorious to behold, especially on the big-screen. The problem, though,
is that there's not enough emotion, not nearly enough heart, for a movie
that should be built on characters and relationships. It's as if the epic
tone of the picture overwhelmed Ward, which shouldn't come as a surprise
since visual design, and not narratives, has always been his strong suit.
What ultimately happens is that you're stuck watching a movie with pretty
pictures, but nothing underneath the surface to lure you into its decidedly
Michael Kamen's score is gently romantic and certainly works hard to
provide an uplifting element to the proceeding, but ultimately it's an
uphill fight since the movie is such a downer. A lot has been made of Ennio
Morricone's score having been replaced, but like most rejected scores we've
seen recently, the decision to replace Morricone's elegiac score with Kamen's
lovely work was less a case of reconceptualizing what the music should
be like than an obvious tinkering move on the part of apprehensive executives.
As someone at the studio said to me, this is a case where the movie is
the problem, not the music. (113 mins, PG-13, *** score by Kamen)
URBAN LEGEND (**1/2): Completely unoriginal teen-horror
cash-in on the SCREAM phenomenon, but its lack of pretensions and sense
of humor serve it well.
The usual grab-bag of college students find themselves being bumped
off by a killer imitating well-known "urban legends," which leads
"Cybill"'s Alicia Witt to pin down the culprit from a host of
possibilities--is it cub reporter Jared Leto, a shady janitor, or perhaps
gas station attendant Brad Dourif (obviously the early favorite in Vegas)?
Plenty of chases, ersatz scares, and red herrings later, the killer is
revealed to be...nah, I won't spoil the (non)-surprise
Any movie of this kind relies heavily on its humor quotient and directorial
style to carry the proceeding, and fortunately URBAN LEGEND has enough
in both categories to satisfy most viewers. Witt and Rebecca Gayhart make
for a pair of appealing protagonists, while Natasha Gregson Wagner and
Danielle Harris (HALLOWEEN 4 and 5--see, I pay attention to these things)
play victims and it's always good to see genre vets like Robert Englund
and Dourif pop up in supporting parts.
Director Jamie Blanks paces the movie swiftly and adeptly alternates
between slasher thrills and a standard mystery "whodunit?" framework,
which makes it easy to overlook the standard cliches inherent with this
material. The ending is a bit much, and it's as instantly forgettable as
last week's Must-See TV comedy line-up, but when compared to the recent
deluge of teen horror movies, it's superior to both HALLOWEEN: H20 and
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, and manages to be campier than the SCREAM
films without being quite as sophomoric. Definitely not a classic, but
perhaps a keeper on video. (R, ** score by Christopher Young)
Laserphile Extra: New On DVD
HALLOWEEN II (**1/2) and HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (**1/2),
$19.96 each from Goodtimes Home Video (***1/2 for presentation): The '80s
were infamous for sequels that were made for no other reasons than monetary
ones, and indeed, John Carpenter's two sequels to his original 1978 classic
were produced mainly for Carpenter and producer Debra Hill to reap in the
profits they deserved (but didn't receive) from the first movie. Nevertheless,
there's still a lot to like in both pictures, despite their relative insignificance
in the genre as a whole.
HALLOWEEN II was produced by Dino DeLaurentiis and distributed by Universal,
which resulted in a bigger budget and Carpenter and Hill returning to write
and produce this sequel, which begins immediately following the events
of the original. With an ugly wig and few lines of dialogue, Jamie Lee
Curtis is sent to Haddonfield Hospital while Michael Myers continues to
stalk unsuspecting victims in and around the small Illinois town. Donald
Pleasence, whose primary function is to continue rehashing the original's
storyline (in case anyone forgot) and myths about the masked killer, tries
to find Myers while the hospital's gaggle of idiot teens (including LAST
STARFIGHTER's Lance Guest) are knocked off one-by-one by The Shape.
Rick Rosenthal took over the directorial reigns from Carpenter, but
Carpenter's signature is still all over this movie, from his entirely synthesized
score to the eerie camera work of regular collaborator Dean Cundey. Carpenter
also played a role in re-editing the film, adding some gross-out inserts
of needles penetrating eyeballs and other gratuitous shots that are a stark
contrast from the subtle filmmaking of its predecessor. If you have a chance
to look at the syndicated TV version of the film (which aired on the "Universal
Debut Network" around 1985), you'll have an opportunity to see a movie
that was reportedly closer to Rosenthal's original version, which is cut
differently, offering less gore, more character development, and a swifter
pace (even though it runs the same 92-minute length). Also look fast for
Dana Carvey as an assistant who takes orders from a female journalist outside
the Myers house.
In trying to establish the "Halloween" brand name as a perennial
October franchise, Hill and Carpenter figured they had milked Michael Myers
for all his worth, and strove to do something different with the ambitious,
Myers-free follow-up, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH *(see below).
Working from a premise by British sci-fi author Nigel Kneale (who had his
name removed from the credits after Carpenter and director Tommy Lee Wallace
mucked around with his script), this curiosity stars Tom Atkins as a doctor
who stumbles upon a crazy scheme hatched by an Irish toymaker (Dan O'Herilhy)
to murder all the nation's kids wearing Silver Shamrock masks on October
31st, via a signal in TV ads that will trigger the masks to crush the little
tykes' skulls. Stacey Nelkin, who has the requisite good looks and perky
demeanor of any brainless '80s horror heroine, is on-hand to provide what
little love interest there is in this creepy but underwhelming sequel,
which benefits again from atmospheric Dean Cundey cinematography and a
deliberate, groaning synth score from Carpenter and Alan Howarth, which
is actually one of their better collaborations.
Part III was poorly received from audiences expecting another Michael
Myers stalkfest, while critics didn't care for the movie either (what a
shock!). My friend Paul MacLean recalls that when Gene Siskel reviewed
the movie on "Sneak Previews," he continuously mentioned and
even sang the obnoxious "Silver Shamrock" theme song, which pops
up in the movie with its goofy synthesized "London Bridge is Falling
Down" altered lyrics more times than I would care to remember! Still,
SEASON OF THE WITCH works splendidly on a double-bill with its predecessor,
since seeing anything different is preferrable to another tiresome Michael
Myers movie (which we nevertheless got in Parts IV, V, VI, and this summer's
HALLOWEEN: H20). After reading about Kneale's original concept, the film
comes off as a missed opportunity, but at least it tries to put a twist
in the series and the film is compelling to watch from start to finish.
Goodtimes has reissued both sequels on DVD, in sparkling new letterboxed
transfers that finally enables us to see all of Dean Cundey's terrific
Panavision cinematography. Part II was even recorded in Dolby Stereo (a
rarity for DeLaurentiis, who refused to splurge for stereo in even CONAN
THE BARBARIAN!) and sounds potent, while III is in a punchy, vibrant mono.
Neither film boasts trailers or any extras (except for some brief promotional
notes), but for $16 a piece (what they retail in many stores), you can't
go wrong. Grab some candy corn and gather some friends, and they make for
a great double feature.
*NOTE FOR TRIVIA BUFFS-- Either Roger Ebert was asleep in his seats,
or perhaps he saw another version of HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH.
Check out his review, where he says HALLOWEEN III "begins at the end
of HALLOWEEN II, when the monster was burned up in the hospital parking
lot...[except] the monster is forgotten, except for a lab technician who
spends the whole movie sifting through his ashes." Anyone remember
this, or is it just a case of a critic making a mistake? (Something I am
familiar with, of course).
Send all thoughts and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until then, 'Nuff said!